We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Paying Attention

Suffering in all of its manifold manifestations lies at the heart of the human experience.  It is physical, emotional, and spiritual.  The world with its natural, social, political, and economic crises and processes causes us to suffer.  Others hurt us.  We ourselves are the source of a goodly portion of our own suffering.

Faith in Christ does not prevent suffering.  Indeed, people of Christian faith often suffer because they are attuned to the suffering around them—at least somewhat.  What faith does do is to help us process suffering in a way that breaks its cycles.  It helps us to better see, however imperfectly, the ways in which we perpetuate our suffering and that of others around us.  It gives us tools for better managing suffering.  Sometimes, it even allows the Holy Spirit to wend its healing way through us into situations of pain, reducing the pain and bringing resolutions that are a foreshadowing of the Kingdom.

When we ground ourselves in faith that is even somewhat open to the Holy Spirit, our faith helps us to creatively pay attention to our suffering and that of others in a way that removes us from the deadly cycles of hurt.

Other religious faiths than Christianity also provide ways through pain and suffering.  We don't have a corner on the market.  The insight of our particular  faith, however, is that like Christ we have to walk our way through the Valley of the Shadow.  We can't reach the high peaks and grand vistas without walking through the forests, the swamps, and all of the other obstacles on the Way.  The cross is not the end of the journey, but it is the way to the end—not something we seek but something we endure and learn from.

It remains unclear to me, at least, why the Creator would construct our reality in this way.  But, somehow, what we are to become is intimately tied to what we must suffer through to become what we are being created to be.  The trick is to not be defeated by suffering, not rendered insensitive by it, and learn what lessons we can from it.  Like a child who has to learn painfully not to stick her hand in a fire, so too does our safety lies in the way through our suffering.  The story we Christians put our trust in is the story of Jesus, the Galilean who walked that way with and for us.  Amen.